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Nigeria’s Constitution Favors Muslims, Puts Christians “at disadvantage”: Catholic Bishops

Frontpage of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Catholic Bishops in Nigeria have calling for a review of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution saying it favors Muslims, puts “Christians and adherents of other religions at a disadvantage,” and does not augur “well for the unity and progress of the country.”

In a memorandum submitted to the Senate Committee on Constitution Review Thursday, June 10, members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) say, “There must be an end to the practically established status that Islam enjoyed in the Constitution in order to maintain the peace and unity of the nation.”

“The particular aspect we want to address for this Review of the 1999 Constitution has to do with the place Islam as a religion has assumed in our Constitution vis-à-vis our national life, to the extent that the 1999 Constitution has put Christians and adherents of other religions at a disadvantage in any place with a Muslim majority,” CBCN members say.

They add, “Regarding the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we state in the first place that there was no time Nigerians convened as individual stakeholders or as represented citizens to decide on or give it to them as a binding law or Constitution.”

Since 2007, members of Nigeria’s national Assembly have been reviewing the 1999 constitution. 

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The 1999 Constitution, the Catholic Bishops say, “is a product of and an imposition of the military.” 

There are “inherent contradictions in the present Constitution that have not augured well for the unity and progress of the country,” they further say in their June 10 collective memorandum signed by CBCN President, Archbishop Augustine Akubueze.

They cite Sections 260 - 269 and Sections 275 - 284 of the Constitution as some of the examples of contradictions in the legislations that need to be reviewed.

According to Section 10 of the Constitution, CBCN members say, “the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion. And that Section 38, among other things, provides that ‘every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

“Contrary to the above provisions, the Constitution, as entirely composed, is evidently inflicted with inherent fundamental contradictions. These inherent fundamental contradictions entrenched the operation of diverse legal systems and regimes in the one nation that is Nigeria,” the Catholic Bishops in the West African nation say.

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They add, “There have been complaints about the special bias, recognition and prominence accorded to Islam in the Constitution of this nation, Nigeria.”

“The framers of the 1999 Constitution created Sharia Courts for Muslims. This explains why a Christian cannot be appointed as Kadi under the laws of the States or Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal,” CBCN members say.

According to the Bishops, “The operation of diverse legal systems and regimes have resulted in the current situation of not having one law as one people in one nation. Rather, what we have is one nation, different laws for different peoples.”

“Thus, we conclude that while Muslims exclusively have a Court that regulates their affairs and to which they can exclusively be appointed as Judges, the same cannot be said for the Christians, or people of other religions. This shows a constitutionally backed gap of inequality and under-representation in the Nigerian judiciary,” the Bishops say.

They further state that “for the sustenance, unity and fairness in this country, the Senate has to take seriously the position of the CBCN and ensure that it listens to all the positions canvassed by Nigerians so that the amended Constitution could reflect the yearnings and visions of Nigeria’s citizens.”

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